Marianne Binetti

Here are some tips for raising a vegetable garden in containers

Cherry tomatoes do well in container gardens.
Cherry tomatoes do well in container gardens. TNS

Do you have a small space? Perhaps just a balcony or patio as outdoor space? Maybe you have no soil and can only grow plants in pots.

You, too, can be a backyard, micro-farmer by planting the best vegetables for small spaces listed below. All except for the beans can be seeded into compact spaces or container gardens now. Look for sunny spots between shrubs or flowers or recycle plastic nursery pots or large tubs with drainage.

To directly sow seeds into the soil now, first dig down a foot or so and loosen up the soil. Remove any rocks larger than your fist. Add a shovel full of compost or well-rotted manure for each one foot of soil you designate for food crops. Next read and follow the planting tips on the back of the seed pack.

You don’t need to waste precious space planting in rows. Just plant in blocks, 1-4 feet square, by spacing the seeds in all directions.

According to local gardening legend Ed Hume, these are the top six vegetables recommended for small spaces or pots in our cool summer climate of Western Washington: Beets, lettuce, carrots, spinach, bunching onions and bush beans.

Q. What tomatoes will do best in a large container on a sunny patio?

A. The upright mini or patio tomatoes can give impressive yields in a container at least 18 inches deep and wide.

Sweet 100, Sweet one million and the yellow pear shaped tomatoes are local favorites.

Warning: Do not let tomato plants sit outdoors at night until mid-May or when the night temps are above 50 degrees. You can place the pot in a wagon or wheel barrow and move it into a garage at night if you really want an early start. Experienced gardeners wait until June to set out tomato plants.

Q. I want to grow eggplant in a container on my sunny balcony. I also want flowers. Can I put low growing but fragrant alyssum in the same container as eggplant? What about plant food? Do I use a fertilizer for vegetables or one for flowers?

A. Yes, eggplant is a beautiful edible that thrives in hot spots, and as long as you avoid pesticides, flowers and food make for great pot mates.

You can use any complete fertilizer on food or flowers. The plants can’t see the picture on the label and only care if they are offered the nutrients they need. A slow-release plant food worked into the potting soil, perhaps followed by a liquid plant food in mid-summer, is enough to keep your eggplants producing and the flowers blooming. Be sure to use quick-draining potting soil and a container with drainage holes.

Q. I grew Swiss Chard with colorful foliage last summer. It looks like some of my plants that were in raised beds survived the winter! I want to rework the soil in the beds and add compost. Can I transplant the Swiss Chard into a container and continue to use it for a second year?

A. Yes! Leafy greens like the beautiful Swiss Chard “Bright Lights” are perfect for the center of a container, either surrounded by micro or salad greens or dressed up with some low growing pansies.

Reach Marianne Binetti through her website at or write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw WA 98022.


April 24, 6:30 p.m., Pierce County Library System University Place branch,

3609 Market Place W., “Garden Solutions from Around the World,” free, no registration, prizes.